Thursday, February 6, 2014

TOR DES GEANTS RACE REPORT 2013

Courmayeur, Italy  September 2013




Finally some time to put a race report together.  Let’s see what I can remember.  An 8 hour delay flying last weekend as I headed off to a race in Arizona  gives a wonderful opportunity to catch up.  Upon return to the states after the Tor I was overwhelmed with work as I got immediately thrown into XC season with the high school team, worked on plans to build a house, did site work on the lot to prepare for the home and was and still am the general contractor, working on the new house which was delivered from Huntington Homes on December 10, 2014.  With a toilet in place, Kristin and I moved in on Christmas Eve.  Still plenty to do but we'll get there.

THE RACE:

The Tor des Géants is the first and only race to combine long distance with the individual style of runners: the organization does not impose any compulsory stages, and the winner will be the runner who completes the race in the shortest time, making his or her own decisions on when and how long to stop for rest and refreshment.  The Tor des Géants is the first race of this kind to cover an entire region, running along its spectacular paths at the foot of the highest Four-Thousanders in the Alps and through the Gran Paradiso Natural Park and the Mont Avic Regional Park. The start and the finish are in Courmayeur. The total length of the race is 336 km which must be completed with a maximum time of 150 hours. The race includes several stretches at high altitude, including 25 mountain passes over 2000 meters, 30 alpine lakes and 2 natural parks. The minimum altitude is 300 m and the highest is 3300 m. The total elevation gain is about 24000 m.  The conditions can be very difficult (running in the dark, wind, cold, rain or snow). Proper training and a real ability to be self-sufficient are essential for successfully completing this individual adventure. 

Tor Des Geants Race Report 2013



Alpine Meadows


The Tor Des Geants turned out to be an experience of a lifetime.  It was everything I thought it would be and then some.  From the very start it created challenges and never let up.  The night prior to the race the weather report was looking rather dismal, rain and more rain.  The race didn't start until 10:00 AM which allowed for a normal night of sleep.  Except all I could hear was the pouring rain which made for a restless night.  As dawn broke the rain let up.  Overcast skies would be great!  After breakfast Kristin and I got our gear together, dressed for the worst and headed out to the start which is right in the middle of Courmayeur.  No sooner did we get almost to the finish line and the rain started again.  It was just miserable, 50 degrees and rain.  As we waiting in line to get scanned before you could even get in the start coral, you could already feel the moisture on your skin.  


The Start Line


It was almost start time so if we started to move, at least that would be better than just standing there getting wet.  No such luck.  10:00 am was the start of the festivities which included anthems and other Italian songs to which we sang for a good 30 minutes.  Finally we were off!!  I decided to start the race with Kristin, more in the back of the pack instead of making my way up near the start line like I did at UTMB.  She was feeling a bit nervous and had never seen mountains like this.  Plus this was also our honeymoon.  Yes we got married days before getting on the plane to Italy.  So I thought I should at least spend a little time with my new wife :)  



The start was slow but manageable, packed in with over 700 runners in the pouring rain on the narrow streets of Courmayeur.  We meandered through town a bit, crossed the road and through more narrow streets going through puddles already, so much for keeping the feet dry.  After a mile or so we finally hit the trails.  And then we stopped.  700+ runners all hitting a steep single track trail together doesn't work much for keeping any forward momentum.  Soon we were moving at a snail’s pace.  



Wow I thought, this is going to be a long, slow race or rather event.  We continued in this conga line for quite some time.  At one point I thought I might have the opportunity to gain some ground and start passing other runners.  I said my goodbyes to Kristin, telling her I would see her later that week, so much for the honeymoon.  But we would have a week after the race to relax and enjoy Italy together.  And off I went passing one by one, for about a minute, then the congo line again with tight single track.  So it was, it was not to be a fast pace and maybe the forced slow pace would be good in the end.  I was a bit nervous myself about the race being over 200 miles in the Alps of Italy.  It seemed like forever but bits and pieces of the trail  finally widened so you could pass but the steepness really prevented you from accelerating.  




So off we all were heading to be the first mountain pass.  The course included many opportunities for you to climb over summits of 8000, 9000 and 10000+ feet.  It was hard to communicate with many of the runners as there definitely was a language barrier.  I do not understand most of the Italian language and most of the European runners didn't understand English either.  At one point I did find some other runners trying to pass others runners as well.  They didn't have the usual European gear either and found out that they were from Colorado.  It was Missy and Brett Gosney.  There were just a handful of Americans there and we really stuck out with our Yankee gear.  

Missy and Brett



We chatted a bit and went back and forth on the course trying to move ahead.  At this point the rain had stopped and the scenery was starting to open up a bit.  It was still cloudy but the mountains were emerging and they were magnificent even with streams flowing from the rains earlier.  



From this point on I don’t recall every step and mile so I’ll just get into some of highlights.   The course was broken down into 7 sections of approximately 50K each.  At each 50K was a major “life station” that provided ample food along with cots to sleep on for as long as you wanted, provided you were ahead of the cut offs.  You had one drop bag that was transported around to each of the life stations.  We all had the same size bag too which was a medium sized duffle bag.  

Drop Bags


In the drop bag you had to make sure you had enough provisions to get you though up to 6 days in the mountains.  So dry clothes, winter gear, extra shoes and socks, etc .  You also were required to keep provisions with you in a pack and for good reason as the life stations did not come too quickly.  You might think of 50K as a short distance to go as in a typical 50K race in the states where maybe you can cover it in 4-6 hours.  To give you an idea, the first 100K at the Tor took 27 hours.   In addition to the life stations, there were rustic mountain huts along the way and village establishments where you could find food and possibly a place to sleep for an hour or two.  After two hours they would wake you up and kick you out as there wasn't a lot of space and other runners might be in need of a nap.  And many were so noisy that you just couldn't sleep.

Cows were a common scene on the course as were cow patties.

Day one had the challenges of starting in the pouring rain, then the rain stopped for a while only to have the afternoon with more rain, lightening and hail.  The steeps were incredibly steep and finally I broke out the sticks (trekking poles).  Never having used them before except for a few short training runs, they were a big help in ascending some of the extremely steep terrain.  But more importantly, they were almost essential on the descents for braking.  Much of the trail had steep and windy single track with a loose gravel surface.  Without a braking mechanism, you would slide right off the trail.  And I did witness one guy in front of me who went over the bank.  Luckily for him he stopped after about 10 feet.  Somewhere on day one I also met up with an Aussie runner Matt Meckenstock.  Matt and I spent a lot of hours together at the Tor.  Matt participated in the race the previous year but had to run a shortened version of the race due to snow and unsafe conditions.  So he was back to run the full race this year.  Matt was a great wealth of knowledge as he had the experience of running most of the course already.  He also knew to ask for food and many times you had no idea they had homemade tortellini in the back or some wonderful other meal.  He also was a big help in managing sleep.

Resting before ascending de Valtroumenche.

Sleep deprivation was to happen so you had to try to minimize the effects and figure out how much and when to sleep.  As the first night set in, I’m not sure if it was not being acclimated to the altitude or being partially hypothermic from being wet for so long but I went in to an aid station and almost passed out.  I tried to get some food down thinking I was hungry but wasn't having any luck.  Every time I stood up I would get dizzy and almost fall over.  So I decided to lie down for a while.  Here you could nap for two hours at the most so without much choice I found a cot.  It was good to regroup although I never slept but had a chance to dry out some clothes in a room with a hand blower.  And with some dryer clothes and food in the belly I headed back out in the rainy evening.  On a sad note, there was one casualty on the first night.  The rains had kicked in again along with sleet, hail, thunder and lightning.  And when nighttime arrived, it was real dark in those mountains. 




A Chinese 43 year old runner (bib 1040) Yang Yuan, died from serious head injury after a fall. The accident occurred in the area of Fond du lac, under the hill of Crosatie Valgrisenche. According to what has been learned, he fell as he walked down a path made slippery by rain, about 2,650 meters above sea level. He bumped his head violently against the rocks. Our best wishes and thoughts go out to his family.




Day two provided some mental challenges.  The rains were done but now with over 24 hours of being on the trail and seeing how little you progressed, it was exhausting and almost unimaginable how you were to go for 206 miles.  If 100K took 27 hours when you were still “fresh” what would happen when you really got tired. 


Kristin on course



During the race I was able to follow Kristin on her journey.  At most of the life bases I was able to see on-line where she was and see if she was on track.  I was worried about her whereabouts on that first night as I knew she was near that fatality.  Little by little she kept going staying ahead of the cutoffs and was doing great.  Just past the midway point was one of the most challenging sections and I was happy to see her get through that but nearing the 125 mile mark she was losing time and had to make a decision to either get some sleep to avoid massive sleep deprivation or move ahead without sleep and take the chance of making some bad decisions from not being of sound mind.  She chose to stop.  She had made it through the toughest parts of the course and some of the harshest conditions but knew it was time to stop to prevent any catastrophes.  I am very proud of her accomplishments, going 125 miles on some of the toughest trails anywhere on mountains much bigger than anything she had ever experienced.  She'll be back to finish this race. 

Kristin with her trail friends from Poland


Somewhere on course I was coming to the top of the Col Loson and there stood what looked like an American hiking about.  How could I tell?  He had on US gear including Pearl Izumi running shoes.  I remembered Missy and Brett talking about a friend of theirs who would be about to help them out.  Yes it was Brendon Trimboli from Colorado who just ran the UTMB the week before. 

Brendon


Brendon and I had a great chat overlooking some of the best views in the world.  He took a pic of me at the summit before I moved on.  I would see Brendon on course at various stages of the race giving some great support.




Coming out of the life base Valtournenche, photo by Brendon.





Food and sleep Management:  One of the biggest challenges I found was how to manage your eating and also your sleeping.  Without either one, you just could not continue.  I started out eating a lot of bread and cheese at every aid station.  One can only eat so much of that before you start to develop issues so I switched over to more pasta.  Not all the food was out there in view.  Pasta was everywhere but you had to know to ask for it. I had some of the best homemade tortellini out of a tent on the side of a mountain at 10,000 feet.  At another mountain aid station they had a grill going where I found the best fries and ate so much I had a hard time running for a while.

Enjoying some of the best steak frites ever at Champillon.

And there was no shortage of wine and Grappa.  After having some trouble trying to sleep that first night I found that a glass of wine with some pasta was the best combo to relax and nap for an hour or two.   Finding the right amount of sleep to maximize your energy and time management was something to learn too.  It seemed like 1-2 hour naps were far better than sleeping 3 hours as after 3 hours the body just didn't want to get up and run but 1-2 hours was just enough to recharge the body and mind.




Roman Roads:  All I can say is too many of these ancient highways along the course.  Rough, inconsistent and hard on the feet.  Sometimes would go for miles and miles.

Roman Highways along the course

Another thing I learned in Italy was a lesson in rest rooms.  After eating too much cheese it wasn't really a problem but after eating more nuts, fruit and pasta, I need to visit the bathroom.  I was at one of those smaller aid stations and found a rest room.  I walked in, looked around at a porcelain hole in the floor with what looked like traction ribs on the side.  Hmm, this was weird so I left.  I wandered around looking for a real restroom and found another one of these porcelain holes.  Then I noticed a roll of toilet paper on the wall next to the hole.  After studying that I figured it out.  I called it the stop and drop.  Never seen anything like this in America.

Stop and Drop Italian Style


The last section of the course had some less challenging sections and you almost thought that the worst was over.  That didn't last for too long as it contained some of the coldest temperatures and incredible steep climbs with cables to hold on to.  As the sun set, I slowly added layers, one by one as I climbed in elevation.  By the time I got near the summit of the last major mountain pass I had on every piece of clothing in my pack including a winter hat, mittens and hand warmers.  After that it was still a grueling descent and running through the night over alpine meadows.  





At that point you knew you were getting close to the end and wanted to sprint but still had more climbs and hours to go until the finish.  I did get a surge of energy for the last 10 miles and was passing other runners on the final descent.  I was ready for it to be over.  The final leg was running back through the streets of Courmayeur and it was quiet as it was just after midnight.  Finally after 110 hours, I was done!  Just in front of me was Pierre Mialocq from France.  We had been running together at many times throughout the race.  Even though we had a hard time understanding each other during the race, we enjoyed running together.  


DONE !


In the end just over half of the field of over 700 runners finished which is pretty amazing.  The awards ceremony was held at the end of the week.  We made a lot of new friends from the Tor from all over the world.  Hopefully we'll see them again on the trail.


The Finishers of the Tor Des Geants 2013


“You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.” 






Saturday, September 7, 2013

FINALLY; TIME FOR THE TOR DES GEANTS

The Big Race Is Here !




All week was kind of a crazy flurry to get everything ready.  Not only were we preparing for a 330K race in the Italian Alps but Kristin and I were finishing up things at our places of work, filing a building permit for a new house we are building, dropping the girls off at the doggie hotel and packing for a 2 ½ week adventure in Italy,  just plain craziness.  But finally we were sitting on the plane totally exhausted but relieved to be able to relax.  Taxiing out to the runway we were finally on our way……until the plane stopped.  Too much traffic in Newark so we were told we’d have to sit on the plane parked for 40 minutes.  The stress level was starting to build as I thought what if we miss our connection to Milan.  Kristin reassured me that we’d be fine but all I could think about was Joe on his way to Hardrock, the same thing and he missed his connecting flight in NY and rented a car to drive to Boston so he could get out there on time.   After 30 minutes, we were on our way….relieved:) We arrived in Newark with plenty of time and celebrated the first leg of the trip with a cold beer and glass of wine.



Our next flight was direct to Milan, an 8 hour flight across the big pond.  The international planes are great with plenty of leg room, behind the seat screens and power plug-ins.  And on this flight we even had dinner.  We had both requested the vegetarian fare and little did I know since we had “special” meals, we were served first.  A little vino with the meal and all was good.  The darkness rolled in and we both settled in for the long flight hoping to get in some sleep as we would be losing 6 hours in the change of time zones.  Kristin fell asleep after watching a movie.  I was tired but my legs were jumping the whole way.  I think I finally got about an hour in before it started to get light and then I couldn't stop looking out the window as we were getting closer.  We flew right over the Alps and it was incredible seeing the huge mountains from overhead and thinking soon we will be running over and through those.



The Milan airport was not too hard to manage although our first case of reality hit as we were trying to find the car rental agency.  You don’t think you will have an issue with the language until you try to ask someone for help and they look at you like you’re from another planet.  Somehow we did find it and the guy there spoke enough English so it worked out fine and he was really good at saying sign here and there.  I have no idea what I signed, I guess I’ll find out when we return the car.

We hit the roads with our GPS loaded with the Italian maps and off we went.  Within the first mile we made a wrong turn and toured through the airport again but then we turned on the volume and she directed us the correct way.  We were on some real country roads on our way to Courmayeur.  We kept thinking we were lost.  For the first 45 minutes we were driving in and out of little Italian villages on cobble stone streets with barely enough room for one car.  Soon we made it to the big highway having to stop at the toll booth.  And of course I went in the wrong line asking for the telepass, which we didn't have.  I had to drive in reverse a ways to get out of this line, luckily no one was coming through.  The autobahn was great for travel and we found out way to Courmayeur in just over 2 hours from Milan.




After running into more narrow cobblestone streets in Courmayeur which dead ended, we found the Edelweiss Hotel.  This is a great smaller family owned place in the heart of Courmayeur.  We unpacked and set off to find some lunch as it was getting late in the day.  Mid day is tough to find businesses open in Italy as many of them close down for a few hours and reopen later in the day.  We found one place and just wanted to get a slice of pizza and something to drink.  More reality as we had no idea what the guy at the restaurant, who I am assuming was the owner, was saying and he couldn’t understand us either.  But we understood one work, closed but then somehow he said pizza was ok and he quickly directed us to a table.  But we wanted to sit outside, he said no in his Italian way so we sat.  Looking at the menu we ordered a pizza to split as we didn’t want to eat too much and fill up as it was already 3 PM and we wanted to have a nice dinner later.  The owner said very sternly in his Italian way, no split pizza, one pie per person.  We were stunned but also very hungry and agreed.  We sort of chuckled to ourselves, not really knowing what we were doing.  Soon the guy came out with two huge pizza pies, one for each.  When he came out he showed us his large belly and said with Italian words and hand language, eat and look like me.  We both ate the entire pies and the owner was very happy.  We were also afraid if we didn't eat them, he might scold us .
We had to walk for a while to work off that pizza and went back to the room for nap as we were both exhausted.  I tried to sleep but also wanted to get a run in so I tucked Kristin in and off I went.  I searched out the trail I ran on two years ago when I ran the UTMB which I believe is the finish to the Tor Des Geants.  After a while and a few missed turns I found it.  I didn't want to totally exhaust myself prior to the race but also wanted to get used to the elevation so I climbed for about 30 minutes on the trail up to Betrone and then turned back.  I came back to the room to find Kristin still asleep but she soon woke up and we hit the town to check out the shops.  We found some Grappa and wine to bring back to the room and enjoyed a bit of the Grappa right off.  By 9 PM we were hungry again and found a wonderful little cafe in an alley way which served great crepes.  And then it was hazelnut ice cream topped with Bailey’s for dessert.  And to end the meal the waiter brought out some limoncello.  When we got back to the room it wasn't long before we passed out as we were still very sleep deprived.




The next morning we finally awoke around 9 am only because we were hungry and breakfast was over at 10:00 am.  The breakfasts here are great with bread, cheese, salami for those who enjoy meat, pastries, extra strong coffee and tarts.  With full bellies, we next planned out our day.  I thought it would be smart to get in some altitude acclimation but running that high wasn't really an option without destroying our legs prior to the race so we took a gondola from La Paud which would bring us to just over 11,000 feet at the Rifugio Torino.  I really had no idea what to expect but when we reached the summit we stepped out to discover the glacier of the Geants right at the foot of Mont Blanc.  The views were unbelievable as we hiked across the glacier.  Kristin was totally new to this kind of mountain experience and was like a little kid who just saw Santa Clause for the first time.  She had a huge smile on her face that just wouldn't go away.  We hung out for about 1 ½ hours hiking around and thoroughly enjoying the scenery.  We were a bit winded when we first got there but really it was not too bad.  After a great day in the mountains, we settled in for some fine Italian wine, fresh cheese and grapes on our balcony overlooking the mountains before dinner.  And then it was back out for some fine Italian dining.  This night it was fresh lasagna with some more awesome local wine.



Friday morning was another late sleep and then more good breakfast.  After that it was down to business.  We had to prepare for the race.  We sorted out what we would need for drop bags and what to wear for the start of the race.  The weather forecast was calling for thunderstorms at the start so we need to be smart and stay dry.  2:00 PM was packet pickup which also included our one drop bag which would be transported to numerous life stations along the way.  We went to the sport pavilion where packet pick up would be but had some lunch first.  Well again we were lost in the language barrier.  We found a restaurant and all I wanted was a light lunch as we had a past dinner coming up.  Not happening.  We sat down and we were handed a limited menu and told in Italian that this was it.  I was totally lost in the translation and Kristin was using her limited knowledge of the language to get us through.  Somehow the meal included what looked like a 9 course meal.  I tried to use my own sign language along with English interpretation but the waiter just looked at me without a clue as to what I was trying to say so we ordered whatever it was.  It turned out to be two full meals.  Confused again, we thought it was a buffet as others had gone up to serve themselves.  So we went up to get our meals.  Then another waiter came out and scolded us.  We tried to explain that we just ordered and he said in some Italian to go sit, they will bring it to us.  So we sat.  Then out came the feast.  We both had a full tortellini dish with fresh bread and then when I was done I had a full plate of polenta with sausage.  I had no idea I ordered sausage but was able to pick it off as I don’t eat meat.  Kristin for her second meal had a full omelette and French fries.  Stuffed from eating too much again, we figure this was all good for carbo loading for the race as we will be weighing a good 10 pounds heavier at race start with all this eating.  After lunch we waddled over to get our race packets and our drop bags to fill which we will bring back prior to our pasta dinner tonight.  Yes, more food to prepare for the 10 AM start on Saturday morning.



Time to hit the pasta dinner.  If you want to track I think you can find us on the Tor Des Geants site.  Kristin is # 626 and I am # 610.  And if you want to see some awesome photos, check out our Facebook page with pics HERE.

Ciao !

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

30,000 Miles and Still Going

The Italian Alps

30,000 Consecutive Miles in just over 7 years without a day off. That's where my Running Ahead log had me a few weeks ago.  I'm not really a data junkie and don't even own a GPS watch but the log automatically adds up my miles and consecutive days of running.  When I saw 30,000 miles it explained part of why I haven't had time lately to keep up with my Blog.  My focus this spring and summer has been to just build miles and get time out on the trail to prep for the Tor Des Geants in September.  I've been trying to learn how to pace myself for the long haul in the Alps.  So here's a brief update of what I've been doing since my last blog.

April:
Don't Run Boston 50 Mile, Blue Hills Reservation, Mass.
Had a fun run but got severely lost as this was a Fat Ass race with no course markings.  I turned it into an all day run with my only goal of getting out before dark.  I ran in circles for 11 1/2 hours and must have run 60+ miles.  It was a good training run.

Boston Marathon (pacing):  The day after DRB, I was on course at the Boston Marathon to support Kristin and Jen who were running it this year.  I met them at mile 13 and decided to run with them for as long as I could.  I was having so much fun that I decided to go the distance with them, almost....until we were stopped with 1/2 mile to go.  Luckily we had gone a bit slower than planned as their finish time was predicted to be 4:09, just when all the activity started.



May:
North Face 50 Mile at Bear Mtn.  A good technical 50 mile run in NY state.  I went down with an open mind and no real plan.  Met up with Matt Wilson and Josh Finger and ran most of it with Matt.  I fell apart around mile 40 and slogged in to the finish.



Vail Colorado:  This was a last minute trip to Vail.  Was there for the Pearl Izumi national sales meeting.  Found some awesome trails at around 10,000 feet.




Vermont City Marathon: Again this year I was in charge of the Pace Groups and again ran the race at the last minute once I knew all the pace leaders were in place in their start corrals.  And it was wet and cold.  I wore a garbage bag for the first 7 miles.  Tired legs were screaming at me by mile 10 but I somehow managed to pull off a 2:56 time.  Still happy to be able to keep it under 3 hours :)




June:
Tarc 100 Mile, Weston, Mass.  I needed another 100 mile training run and found this race at the last minute and this was an easy drive to get there.  Kristin and John would be running the 50 mile as they had the VT 100 in a month.  Course was incredibly wet with lots of deep water and mud.  7:00 pm Friday night start was fun too.  Just after the darkness set in, around mile 12 I tried to avoid a rather large mud pit and tried to run alongside in the giant ferns.  Not a good idea, the fun ended.  Behind one of those giant ferns was a solid object like a stump.  Hitting that solid object with my upper right thigh brought out stars and loss of breath. After walking in a stupor for a moment I continued on trying to ignore the pain.  By mile 35 I could see my leg was swollen.  At mile 50 I went to the medical tent.  The person I chatted with didn't think it was broken so I had him wrap it up with a large compression bandage and out I went.  By mile 70 I could barely walk and had to drop.  Thought I broke my femur as it swelled up over the next few days which made running a challenge but after a week I was running normal again.
Bruised Leg



Kristin at the finish




July & August:
No major races.  Weekly 5k trail races at Catamount Family Outdoor Center and the same at Trapp Family Lodge and some mountain bike races too.  And lots of mountain miles, mostly up around Mt. Mansfield and Came's Hump.  Hit Mt. Lafayette in NH too.  I'm trying to slow down my pace and learn how to run up mountains with sticks and keep a good solid pace throughout.  And an occasional jump from 13,000 feet.

The Mansfield Loop

Mount Lafayette, NH

September:
The Tor Des Geants:  :)  208 miles, 79,000 feet of climbing and 79,000 feet of descending.

Tor Des Geants



That's the update.  Between running, trying to build a house, preparing for this race and some other very important personal matters, life has been very busy but good.  Oh yes, I have to work too.





Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tor Des Geants 2013- Here we come!

Tor Des Geants course


TIME TO MAKE A PLAN

Finally I made it through a lottery and have the start of a plan for running in 2013.  Yes I've already run 2 races this year but those were more like early season play days in the warm temps of Texas.  Now it's time to think about training for a real challenge.  The Tor Des Geants which occurs in September runs through the Italian Alps for 330K (approx. 208 miles) and has about 79,000 feet of climbing.  One of the biggest challenges can be the weather.  It's not  uncommon to find snow in the higher elevations and mudslides in the lower elevations and many other challenges along the way.  I know that all too well from running the Ultra Trail Du Mont-Blanc in 2011.  But this year, Kristin and I will be attempting to finish this challenge, which they give you 150 hours to complete, sleeping is optional.  And no, this is not a stage race but it starts when it starts and finishes when you cross the finish line.  Click here for more info on the Tor Des Geants.

TRAINING:
For the last 2 months since the Rocky Raccoon 100, I've taken it quite easy, running without a plan and just for fun.  Now I need to focus on building up those miles again and with mountain runs every week.  Luckily we have some hill to train on, the Green Mountains of Vermont.  Not quite the Alps but certainly they provide some good steep ups and downs.  The bi-weekly runs up Camel's Hump have been great with nicely snow packed trails, perfect for the microspikes!  And of course the long, slow training runs on the back dirt roads until the trails clear out of snow and mud.  I've slipped in a couple of fast road races like the New Bedford Half Marathon, always an early season test of one's fitness and the GMAA 10k Sap Run.

Gabby looked like this
I thought after spending a lot of time with Kristin's dogs I would be much better with other dogs when they chase me.  And for the most that's been the case.  But not always.  Recently on a long run with Kristin, we encountered an unleashed Bernese Mountain Dog, "Gabby".  She probably weighs as much as me, maybe more.  On the surface she looks like a big puff ball but she has an attitude some days and on this particular day, she was downright aggressive.  We first came upon her at an intersection but headed in the opposite direction.  Still she wanted a piece of us.  She got close enough to Kristin's right cheek as she could feel her breath upon her as the owner called out to no avail.  Soon we were out of reach but I knew we would most likely catch up to her after we turned around and started our tempo run.  We ran about a half mile out and then turned to do the workout.  We had 2 miles to go and Gabby lived about a half mile away.  Gabby came out to greet us in full force.  I thought I would try to chat with Gabby.  Meanwhile Kristin high tailed it in the opposite direction.  Gabby was ready to eat me with teeth showing and an attitude.  I backtracked only to trip on my own feet and landed on my butt fearing that Gabby would pounce on me while down.  Luckily she didn't.  After much talk, Gabby finally went home and we proceeded with the rest of the tempo run.




Upcoming Races and the Plan:  Still in the works but I know I have to get in numerous 50 and 100 mile races to prep for Tor Des Geants.  I will be running the Don't Run Boston 50 mile in mid April and the North Face 50 mile at Bear in May.  There are a number of options for 100's later in June and July but I haven't decided yet where to go.  The Key Bank Vermont City Marathon in late May will also be on the schedule but not sure if I will race it or pace it and won't know until the start of the race.

Other Notable Races and Causes:

The Boston Marathon and the Dick Beardsley Foundation.  Please help Kristin raise funds for the Dick Beardsley Foundation!  Help raise awareness, we can break through chemical dependency.  Kristin is running Boston this year and is raising funds for this great cause.  You can donate through First Giving

Fellowship of the Wheel:  The Fellowship has an awesome trail network throughout Chittenden County for bikers and runners.  Your donation helps build and preserve some of our great trails.

If you want to see a fun new source for New England trail running look at Far North Endurance.

That's it for now.  More training and races to come :)




The winners in life think constantly in terms of
I can, I will, and I am.
Losers, on the other hand,
concentrate their waking thoughts on
what they should have or would have done, or what they can't do.





Thursday, February 14, 2013

ROCKY RACCOON 100 MILE RACE REPORT 2013




Huntsville, Texas
February 2, 2013

Who would have thought that I would have been back in Texas for a second time this year?  It used to be that I would go out West to ski in the winter.  Now I’m traveling to the warmer climates to go run.  Just three weeks ago I was in Bandera running 100K in the Texas Hill Country.  Now I was returning to Huntsville, located about an hour north of Houston to run the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Endurance Trail Run.  It seemed so long ago when I signed up for this with any knowledge of what I was getting into.  Back in May a number of us from the Thursday night running group in Vermont decided a road trip was in order so we signed up for Rocky.  Later I found out this was a loop course, not one or two but five loops around a park on mostly flat terrain which attracts many of the speed runners.   Not my favorite as I prefer mountains and steeps.  Flat terrain is a huge mental challenge for me.  I need variety and change.  In 2010 I ran the Burning River 100 Mile in Ohio which had a lot of Tow Path running.  That drove me crazy with flat, straight stretches for long periods that after a while I would run backwards and sideways and skip along to keep motivated.  And it finally broke me a number of times where I had to walk on totally flat terrain.  So the thought of Rocky scared me but I looked at it as a fun time away to run with friends.  We had the crew of Bob Ayers Jr, Kristin Lundy, Jen Sorrell, John Lacroix, Serena Wilcox, Shari Bashaw and myself running the hundred and Sherry Ricker running the 50 mile.

The flight down was uneventful which was great based on my flying nightmares of 2012.  I flew down solo on United while a larger group flew together on Jet Blue.  Leaving Vermont it was 50 degrees and rain after a week of subzero temps.  Arriving in Texas it was 70’s and dry.  Another fear of mine was the heat.  Three weeks earlier at Bandera the heat hurt me and I cramped bad on the second half of the course as happens all too frequent.  Even the bikram yoga training twice a week in 105 degrees didn't acclimate me enough.  I was hoping that my body was better prepared this time.  And my training leading up to Rocky seemed sufficient but the race frame of mind just wasn't there.   But I was on vacation with friends so it was all a good thing no matter how the race turned out.  We all arrived in Huntsville later in the day.  After we all checked in, Kristin and I got in an easy 3 miler pre-dinner to stretch out the legs a bit.  Then we all met for dinner at Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant.  If you ever go there, order the large frozen margarita!  Just make sure you have someone to drive you home.


The VT Crew (missing is Sherry Ricker)

Friday we decided to all play tourists for the morning and went to visit with local hero Sam Houston, a huge 77 foot statue.  I felt inclined to do some climbing to get a better view.

Jack with Sam
Sam Houston


Driving back to the motel we drove by the Texas Prison Museum but passed on that visit.   We headed into town for lunch and I ate way too much pizza.  Then it was back to the rooms to prepare drop bags before heading over to race central to drop off the bags.


BEWARE OF LARGE CRITTERS!
The race was being held at Huntsville State Park.  Before the trail briefing we went for a short run to check out the trails.  And I had a new shoe to try out.  Typically for a 100 miler I wear a supportive trail shoe such as the Pearl Izumi Trail II’s but I heard many runners would be wearing a road shoe based on the non-technical terrain of the race.   I just received a new pair of the latest Pearl Izumi Kissaki 2.0 road shoes.  They were light and quick and comfortable but also totally neutral and not very supportive.    They felt good on the short loop we did but would they be enough for 100 miles?  With a roll of the dice I decided to give them a try on race day.   Then it was off to the trail briefing but I still was stuffed and uncomfortable from lunch so I decided to head back out on the trails.  When I got back the trail briefing was over but there still was time to chat with the research project folks who would be doing research during the race based on perceived effort and performance.  I’m always up for experiments so I signed up to participate.   Afterwards dinner was light, still working off the lunch menu and then to bed sort of early as we had to be up around 4:00 AM.

Race Day:  We arrived at the Huntsville State Park around 4:30 am trying to avoid any long line up of cars getting into the park.  We dropped off the last of the drop bags for the start/finish area and rested up until the 6:00 am start.  It was still dark so headlamps would be necessary for the first hour or so and then again for later on in the race after sunset so some planning was necessary to time having the headlamps when needed.  I figured on dropping my starting headlamp off at the Damnation Aid Station which was at mile 6 and then 12, or later in the race at mile 66 and 72 but also had one at the start/finish which would be mile 80.  Not having run this race before I didn't want to get caught in the dark, been there before like 3 weeks ago at Bandera.  The temps were in the 50’s and were supposed to be in the 70’s later so all I had on was a singlet for the top layer, anticipating that it would be off fairly soon as the temps rose.  We all made to the start line on time and were ready to go.

Jen, Jack, Bob, Serena, John, Shari, Kristin

On the front line were Mike Morton, Josh Finger and some other local Texans.  I grabbed Bob Ayers to run with me just behind the front line.  And we were off.  Right from the get go, Josh took off along with another runner and Mike Morton just behind.  Bob and I were running along in the next pack behind a couple of other runners.  We seemed to be running at a comfortable pace, getting the body and lungs to warm up.   The terrain was mostly flat but there were some annoying roots, especially in the dark that seemed to jump up now and then.  The front pack seemed to be long gone which was fine with me as we had 100 miles to go and I didn't see a need to be sprinting out at this point.  My strong point is usually the endurance at the end and after mile 80 when the temps cool off I tend to pick it up a bit.  It wasn't long before the runner in front of us tripped and went down and again.  By the third time or so, he was down and out for a bit and Bob and I took the lead for the second pack. I took my share of falls as well.  Not long into the run, I went down hard and bashed my knee into a root.  It hurt and I could smell a cut along with a bruise but refused to look down at it.  What I don’t see can’t hurt as much, right?  After a while the pain went away but down I went again, tuck and roll and back up.  And about the midway point I went down again this time hitting my face on the dirt.  Bob gave me grief for my skillful footing.  At the Damnation aid station I dropped off my headlamp to have for later on if needed.  Bob and I enjoyed the rest of the first 20 mile loop mostly to ourselves, occasionally grabbing some food at an aid station.  At the 20 mile mark or end of the first loop we did some quick refueling and any necessary changes and off we went again, out onto loop 2.  Our running time was about 2:39.  On loop 2 it wasn't long before Bob went down.  He did a nice downhill sliding crash embedding some Texas soil into his forearm.  I seemed to be running fine now with full daylight to see the ground below.  And then Bob went down again.  Now it was time for me to give Bob grief and then he hit again for a third time.  We were now 3 for 3, tied for crashes but I wouldn't let that stop me as on the rest of lap 2, I fell 3 more times, luckily nothing serious.  About half way through lap 2 it was starting to heat up as the sun was up and the temps were rising.  You just knew mid day was not going to be fun.  But Bob and I were having a great time running along, chatting about everything and lap 2 was turning out to be faster than lap 1.

Bob and Jack in total sync cruising along the RR 100 trails.
It’s amazing what how much faster you can run in daylight.  Then out on the 6 mile Damnation Loop I looked back and Bob was gone.  I figured he must have had a quick trip to the woods and he’d be back shortly as I slowed it down a bit to wait but no Bob.  I continued on at my own pace.  As I came upon the last aid station for lap 2, I saw Josh standing there ready to run and off we went.  Apparently he wasn't feeling great anymore and had slowed down.  We ran for only a short time before he slowed up even more and I was on my own again.  So I kept moving, feeling good and made it back to the start/finish, end of lap 2, refueling and out in a time of about 2:47.  The average pace for my first 40 miles was just under 8 minutes/mile.  I was informed that I was in third place at this point but there was still 60 miles to go and anything can happen.  As I made it out on loop 3 you can see who’s behind and a few minutes out there was Bob.  I guess Bob had a case of the pukes but was back and running again.

Lap 3 was really starting to heat up and I knew this was my weakness.  Three weeks ago at Bandera I cramped so bad mid race that I had to walk a good part of the last lap to survive.  So far on this day, I was well hydrated and keeping down my electrolytes so no cramping yet.  The big test would be getting by mile 50 where it seems I tend to get the pukes as has been the case in the past 3-4 races.  I was trying to eat but the heat was making it difficult.  I was ingesting GU’s ok for a while but was getting tired of those too.  My drink had extra calories so I wasn't eating much solid food but knew I had to make an effort to eat or it would catch up to me later on.  So I tried to nibble at the aid stations on mostly pretzels and some kind of trail mix.  I made it through mile 50 without the pukes but was feeling somewhat nauseous, probably from the heat but I didn't puke which was big :)  The rest of lap 3 was slow but steady pouring water on my head whenever I could to cool the core.  I finally finished lap 3, refueled and out I went in a time of 3:34 which I was totally fine with.  I knew I had to back off mid day.  Lap 4 was downright hot, I was nauseous but holding it together and trying to drink and eat.  Still no cramping which was huge.  I had pre-mixed a number of my drink bottles with electrolyte pills so I wouldn't have to attempt to swallow them which usually results in the gag reflex and puking.  So far so good.  Then somewhere along the Damnation 6 mile loop I starting to feel some odd pains in my left knee.  What the heck?  When I would back off it was fine but when I ran it was starting to be like a knife jabbing the outside of my knee.  Bad memories suddenly came to mind.  The IT band!  I had issues with the IT many years ago and never ran because I thought I had bad knees.  But then I discovered a PT that had me strengthening instead of just stretching and that fixed the old IT.  And back in 2010 I had a mild re-occurrence of the IT band but that was a result of tweaking an ankle from skydiving and changing my gait to accommodate it.  So why an issue now at mile 70?  I knew why.  My decision to wear a flexible neutral shoe when I hadn't allowed the body enough time to adapt to that kind of running caught up to me.  I’m often a running experiment and guinea pig but I should know better than to experiment during a 100 mile race.  The rest of lap 4 was painful doing the run/walk.   Somewhere near the second half of lap 4 Bob came cruising by.  We chatted a bit and off he went looking strong.  Go Bob!!

I stopped at the last aid station and had a cheese quesadillas trying to get some food in me and continued on.  Soon after that, pain hurt my belly too and by mile 78 I had a case of the pukes.  But it really wasn't all that bad as I was able to drink and eat afterwards.  But the wheels had fallen off.  I was wishing it was a 100K at that point but finished up lap 4, refueled, grabbed my night gear and was out in a time of 4:17.  Lap 5 was not going to be fun but I was determined to keep going.  I had plenty of time to finish and the temps were cooling down.  I had no choice but to resort to the walk/run.  I would run until the knee pain got so bad, then back it down to a fast walk/power hike.  I continued like this for hours.  The night air was cooling and as long as you were moving it was fine but if you stopped at all at the aid stations, you would quickly lose the heat.  With my walk/run mode I knew I was in for a long night and decided to enjoy some of the night time food.  The  selection of soup was great and mashed potatoes too.  I was counting down the aid stations and kept moving forward, slowly.  I made it through the first Damnation Aid station and was not looking forward to the 6 mile loop.  There were some gradual hills involved and I knew that would cause additional knee pain so I just took it slow.  At the top of the first hill I thought I heard a crowd of people cheering and it was getting louder.  But there weren't any people around.  Just coyotes howling up a storm in a large pack.  I was hoping they were similar to the Vermont coyotes and harmless to people.  It seemed like forever but I finally came out of the Damnation Loop, now at mile 92.  I stopped to quickly grab some food and there were Kristin and Jen.  They were on lap 4 or mile 72 at that point.  Jen was sitting on the log ready to eat some food when she went into puke mode.  Apparently this lap had taken her down with the pukes.  She wasn't looking so good but she’s strong and not a quitter.  She had her pacer now too for help.  With a bit more hurling Kristin had enough and took off before she started to puke, dragging me behind.  This was good as I needed someone to pull me along at this point and on we went.  Kristin was running a good solid pace, not too fast or slow.  Me, I would surge ahead until the knee hurt too much then power hike until she caught up and got too far ahead and then surge again. This went on for a long time.  We arrived at the last aid station and enjoyed pancakes rolled up with blueberries for a late night snack and some other treats and off we went again.  Somewhere along the way we spotted an armadillo!  Finally I got to see one of those critters.  When we got to within a mile or so to the finish Kristin heard there was another 100 mile runner who just passed us on their last lap.  She was not to have them finish ahead of me so off she went with me in pain and in tow trying to keep up.  We were successful in staying ahead and I finally crossed the finish line with the last lap crawling with a time of 5:15 and with a final finishing time of 18:33.  I was glad to be done!!  Kristin’s pacer John was waiting patiently for her and off they went out into the darkness for her final lap.

Kristin with pacer John

In the end, Bob had a great final lap and placed 5th overall!!  He won the overall top 5 alligator award.  He was running scared thinking I was coming, glad I could motivate him :)  Serena ended up 5th overall for the women after some questionable training tactics in Vermont and won the top 5 alligator award.  John finished the 100 miler setting a new PR for himself.

Pacer Terry with John at the finish line.
Somehow Jen came back to life and caught up to Kristin as her wheels were falling off and the two motivated each other to a strong finish, crossing the finish line together.

Kristin and Jen at the Finish Line

Kristin set a new 100 mile PR for herself and for Jen it was her second fastest 100 miler.

Jen with pacer relaxing at the finish tent.

Shari finished as top master woman bringing home the alligator award after some time off from 100 milers.  And Sherry finished her first ever 50 mile trail race.  As for me, I ended up as the top men’s master winning the alligator award.  So our Vermont contingency had a 100% finish rate for the 100 miler yet only 67% of the overall field of 100 milers even finished the 100 miles.  Go VT!!
Full Results can be found HERE.

The Gator Award

The Gear:  The Pearl Izumi Kissaki 2.0, even though it caught up to me at mile 70 is really an amazing shoe.  My foot was in total comfort.  But next time I think I'll train on it before taking it for such a long trail run.  Also the Drymax socks again, no blisters at all.  Headsweats ultra race cap kept the sun off my head and the sweat out of my eyes.  I used the GU Brew Roctane for extra calories and electrolytes along with GU gels throughout.

Kristin with the 100 Mile Buckle

Thanks to Joe and Joyce Prusaitis and Tejas Trails for putting on a fabulous event and to all the volunteers who spent countless hours helping out. And thanks Liza for helping at Dogwoods each time I came through.  We'll be back!




Don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs 
but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.